The defining characteristic of last season’s Houston Rockets was the team’s woes on the defensive glass. The Rockets finished 29th in the league in DREB%. In 2017-2018, the team finished fourth in DREB%. The only major difference in the team was the subtraction of starting small forward Trevor Ariza. About as interesting is the fact that after the All-Star break last year, the Rockets finished with the second best defensive rating in the entire league; they were still just 26th in DREB%.
Ariza wasn’t particularly great on the glass. He’s averaged just 4.8 rebounds per game in his career. In 2017-2018, he averaged 4.4 rebounds. I and others have hypothesized that his contributions on the glass aren’t reflected in the box score. He possibly was boxing out bigger players very well, allowing his teammates to secure the rebounds.
What I didn’t realize was just how dreadful Eric Gordon is on the glass. Per cleaningtheglass, Gordon ranks in just the third percentile among all ‘wings’ in the NBA in defensive rebounding. Clint Capela is in the 87th percentile among ‘bigs’, Chris Paul is in the 92nd percentile among ‘points’, and James Harden is in the 89th percentile among ‘combo’ guards. P.J. Tucker is in just the 9th percentile among ‘bigs’. It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Rockets got killed on the glass when they were playing two dreadful rebounders at forward.
It begs the question as to whether Mike D’Antoni should start the taller and more athletic Danuel House at small forward instead of Gordon. House is in the 37th percentile among ‘forwards.’ That’s not good by any means, but its better than Gordon. I also noted last season that the team’s best rebounding stretch of the year came in the twelve games House started before being sent back down to the G- League – they were 18th in DREB% during that stretch.
The argument for starting Gordon will be that Westbrook represents a major upgrade over Paul in the rebounding department (he does) and that because of that, the team can now afford a weak link. We’ll see how that plays out. But by position, Paul wasn’t the problem. If the troubles on the glass persist, D’Antoni would be wise to swap out Gordon for House.